How much white noise is too much?

This article was written by:

La Terra Jackson | NCS, CLC, CIMT, BA Psychology and Human Development and

Laura Shiff | Copywriter

Published November 15, 2018



Given the prevalence of stress and distractions in today’s world, it’s no surprise that parents find it particularly challenging to get quality sleep for their baby and for themselves. With the bundle of joy they bring into our lives comes a side serving of sleep deprivation.

Babies cry a lot, but you cannot fault them for that. It is the only way they know how to communicate their needs. And while we do love seeing them healthy, happy, and actively exercising their vocal cords, there’s no arguing the fact that parents (and the baby) need their fair share of sleep.

But just how do you scale the many distractions and stresses (some of which are put forward by your baby) to get that priceless dose of sleep? White noise might be your simple solution to an otherwise complex problem.


  • What is White Noise?


White noise mimics the internal environment of the mother’s womb, induces a tranquil/peaceful state, and further acts to neutralize any background noise that may arise while your baby sleeps.

For babies, white noise is even more beneficial. Prior to being born, they are housed in a womb that is characteristically noisy, with some estimates putting the noise level in the range of 70-90 decibels, thanks to maternal bowel movements and uterine contractions. That’s as loud as a lawnmower! Though it seems unconventional, recreating this maternal environment helps your baby sleep better and there are several studies to corroborate this fact.

In one study, it was found that the probability of a baby falling asleep was more than threefold in the presence of white noise. That same study also revealed that newborns exposed to white noise in the range of 72.5 to 67 decibels fell asleep five times faster than those without white noise.


  • Babies need white noise to develop properly and thrive.


Conventional wisdom and clinical practice has been to keep infants in a noiseless or low noise environment. What we know now is that excessive reduction of noise might be harmful, having a similar effect to sensory deprivation. Recent scientific findings reveal that babies who were in noiseless/low noise NICUs did not develop as well.

For newborns, white noise has been proven to stabilize breathing and cardiovascular functions. Specifically, it relieves hypoxemia (low blood oxygen) and bradycardia (reduced heart function) in preterm neonates. This discovery is crucial because preterm neonates by virtue of being delivered rather early are prone to developing a myriad of health complications.

Postnatally, white noise induces a peaceful and restive state similar to what was obtainable as they developed in-utero.

While previous researches focused on the benefits of white noise as it relates to sleep, recent studies have unveiled an entirely new perspective on its health benefits. White noise is implicated in the development and enhancement of cognitive functions in both adult and kids. Per a study published in the Journal of Scientific Reports, it improves specific areas of cognitive capability. The study tested the ability of adults to learn new words in the presence of white noise. Unsurprisingly results confirmed that it in fact enhanced word learning in healthy adults. One other randomized study showed that white noise elicited the same cognitive improvement and heightened memory performance this time, however, on kids. Researchers have attributed this white noise mediated boost in cognitive performance to the systemic expression and regulation of Dopamine dependent neural pathways. That is a scientist’s way of saying white noise naturally triggers the release of beneficial neurotransmitters associated with improved neural functions in the brain.


  • The benefits of white noise are unequivocal


On the backdrop of this research-based evidence, it is more than ever apparent that white noise precedes several beneficial health effects. Amongst other things,

  • its ability to simulate the noise schema of the womb and consequent induction of sleep in infants has far-reaching positive implications.
  • When children get more sleep, parents in extension are relieved from the stress of cries and unrest typical with babies. It is a win-win situation
  • when used in the right manner white noise comes with no adverse health effect or complication.
  • So, what is the next step for me as a parent?

More white noise. Either for yourself or for your developing infant, regardless of who is getting a dose of white noise, you both have a lot to gain from its soothing effect. Thankfully, there is a vast collection of devices capable of reproducing the characteristic white noise on the market today. Alternatively, purifiers, fans and if you’re one for digital solutions, mobile phone apps can double as white noise generators since they also produce a stable stream of ambient noise similar to white noise.





Parga, J. J., Daland, R., Kesavan, K., Macey, P. M., Zeltzer, L., & Harper, R. M. (2018). A description of externally recorded womb sounds in human subjects during gestation. PLOS ONE, 13(5), e0197045. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0197045


White noise and sleep induction.
J A Spencer, D J Moran, A Lee, and D Talbert
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